The bye weeks are not completely gone, but they are on a one-week break while we welcome the Thursday night games to the fantasy schedule. This gives us a map for how the crucial weeks of the stretch are going to play out for our lineup decisions.
We don't yet have all the injured superstars back, with Darren McFadden, Andre Johnson, Miles Austin, Ahmad Bradshaw, Jahvid Best, Peyton Hillis and Mark Ingram potentially still sitting. But we at least can overcome it with the options available to use with all 32 teams active in 16 games this weekend, starting with the sleeping-giant Chargers against the Raiders.
The crucial weeks of jockeying for fantasy postseason positioning are upon us, so the lineup decisions are as crucial as ever. Here is where analyzing the matchups and your options can make or break your fantasy fate.
Here is the Start 'Em, Sit 'Em for this chock-full Week 10:
• RB Michael Bush, K Sebastian Janikowski
The Chargers are fifth-best in fantasy against running backs, but with Darren McFadden (foot) out, the Raiders are going to feature Bush again. He should be good for 75 yards and a score. The rest of the Raiders are a risk, especially the colossal mess that was made of the receiver position in Carson Palmer's first start.
• QB Philip Rivers, WR Vincent Jackson, RB Ryan Mathews, RB Mike Tolbert, K Nick Novak, D/ST Chargers
This amounts to a "start all" game for the Chargers, especially their defense, which gets the turnover-prone Palmer at home. In Week 9, Rivers, Jackson and Antonio Gates rebounded to look like must-starts again, despite their first-half consistency. The Chargers also get a Raiders front that was abused on the ground last week by the Broncos. That makes a returning Mathews and the bowling ball Tolbert solid options in all leagues. The Raiders are third-worst in fantasy against RBs.
• WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, D/ST Raiders
So much for DHB's third-year WR breakout year: Palmer didn't get him a reception last week, and the Chargers are a lot better against WRs than they showed against the undefeated Packers juggernaut last week. Jacoby Ford and Denarius Moore could take the receptions from DHB under Palmer's reign, but the uncertainty should keep you from starting any of the Raiders receivers. On the other side of the ball, the Raiders defense looks like a decent play against the turnover-prone Rivers, but we feel it is dangerous. Sure, the Chargers are third-worst against opposing fantasy D/STs, but Rivers is going to limit the mistakes here with a lead and the Raiders are going to give up a lot of yards and points in a crucial rebound game in San Diego.
• RB Darren Sproles, K John Kasay, TE Jimmy Graham, WR Marques Colston
No matter who the Saints have available at RB, Sproles remains a solid play for his receiving numbers. The same confidence should go to Drew Brees' primary targets, Graham and Colston, who are coming off disappointing weeks. Kasay and Brees are must-starts in all weeks.
• RB Michael Turner, QB Matt Ryan, WR Roddy White, K Matt Bryant, TE Tony Gonzalez
Ryan has been revived and now figures to engage in a division-deciding shootout here. Julio Jones looks like a must-start right now, but so are White and Gonzalez, who are targeted a lot more. The Saints are not going to give up the big plays Jones made last week. It should be a lot of Turner loosening up defense early.
• RB Pierre Thomas, RB Mark Ingram, WR Devery Henderson, WR Robert Meachem, D/ST Saints
The Falcons are sixth-best in fantasy against RBs and a potential return of Ingram in a crucial division game makes both Thomas and Ingram bad plays. With no teams on bye, you shouldn't be starting Henderson or Meachem in any formats any more. As for the D/ST, you shouldn't expect the Falcons to turn the ball over at home here.
The Falcons defense has been rejuvenated in fantasy because of a soft portion of the schedule, but the Saints offense isn't one you're going to want to be taking a chance against with a marginal fantasy unit.
• QB Ben Roethlisberger, WR Mike Wallace, RB Rashard Mendenhall, D/ST Steelers
The Bengals have a very good defense -- top 10 against QBs, RBs, WRs, TEs, K and D/STs, everything -- but the Steelers are coming off a loss and handled an even better defense a week ago. Mendenhall and Miller are the only real question marks of this bunch, but they are the types of players to be leaned on in a tough defensive game like they were last week. Mendenhall found the end zone against the Ravens and should again here. Count on a rebound with your Steelers, despite the quality of the Bengals defense.
• WR A.J. Green
This is almost a "sit all" game for the Bengals, especially since the Steelers are No. 3 in fantasy against WRs, but Green has been too consistent. We should also expect the Bengals to be trailing in this game and throwing from behind. The Ravens were able to do it late,Green should be productive enough to keep active in all leagues, regardless of the matchup now.
• WR Antonio Brown, K Shaun Suisham
Brown has emerged as a solid fantasy option, but unlike Wallace, he is not immune to a bad matchup -- despite what we saw last week. Sit Brown and expect the Steelers to focus their offensive plan on the key cogs in Mendenhall, Wallace and Miller. As for Steelers kicker, the Bengals have allowed the second-fewest field-goal attempts in the NFL.
• RB Cedric Benson, QB Andy Dalton, D/ST Bengals, WR Jerome Simpson, K Mike Nugent
Dalton and the Bengals have been great to date, but that is mostly do to a favorable last-place schedule. Now the real challenge begins, and we don't expect the Bengals to be up for it this first go-round. There is going to be some reality rushed their way by the Steelers defense hungry, healthier and coming off a loss. The Steelers have been their worst against the run, but they shut down the Ravens last week (thanks to a holding penalty). You shouldn't be considering Benson.
• RB Fred Jackson, WR Steve Johnson
The Cowboys had been one of the elite run defenses in the NFL, but they have been gashed in the past two weeks. It is enough -- you didn't need much -- to keep Jackson active in all leagues. You still should lower expectations, though. The Cowboys are still a stout run defense. As for Johnson, and maybe Ryan Fitzpatrick, you should look at this game as a potential shootout in Dallas. Johnson should be a beneficiary. Also, the Cowboys are the second-worst team in fantasy against TEs, so perhaps you can use Scott Chandler again if you need a sleeper.
• RB DeMarco Murray, QB Tony Romo, WR Dez Bryant, TE Jason Witten, K Dan Bailey, D/ST Cowboys
This is a "start all" game for the Cowboys against a Bills team that is in the bottom 10 against QBs and RBs. Romo should be better than he has been, and Murray should remain productive, regardless of Felix Jones' health status. The loss of Miles Austin (hamstring) should be a boon for Bryant and Witten owners. Laurent Robinson can be a sleeper if you're missing Austin or another elite WR.
• RB Felix Jones, D/ST Bills
We should not expect Jones to play, and if he does, he will be too limited to use for fantasy purposes. A completely healthy Jones might not be anything more than a third-down receiving threat. You probably shouldn't consider the Bills defense against a still-potent Cowboys offense either.
• QB Matt Schaub, TE Owen Daniels, K Neil Rackers
Arian Foster will be featured heavily against the fourth-worst team in fantasy against RBs. Ben Tate might even be a solid play. Daniels will also find some a targets against the sixth-worst defense against TEs. Schaub likely won't have Andre Johnson (hamstring) back yet, but he should be good enough against the Bucs defense to start in most formats. If you need a sleeper, Jacoby Jones and Kevin Walter aren't bad options.
• RB LeGarrette Blount
The Texans have the No. 1 overall defense in the NFL now, albeit most of that damage has been done against the weak offenses of the AFC South. The Texans have the third-best defense in fantasy against RBs, but Blount is where the Bucs' offensive focus is. He should remain active, especially with so many premium backs still banged up. He is all you should be confident in with the Bucs, though.
• QB Josh Freeman, WR Mike Williams, TE Kellen Winslow, K Connor Barth, D/ST Buccaneers
This could be considered a "sit all" game for the Bucs against the revived Texans defense, although Blount still likely has to be used. The Texans are fifth-best against QBs and third-best against TEs. You cannot possibly like Williams or Winslow amid their struggles, especially with none of your players on bye. The Texans could keep this a low-scoring game, so don't bother with Barth or the Bucs D/ST.
• RB Beanie Wells, WR Larry Fitzgerald
It doesn't look like Kevin Kolb (toe) is going to play, but you still shouldn't sit Fitzgerald -- even against the Eagles corners. Wells will be featured heavily with John Skelton under center, especially with the Eagles the fifth-worst team in fantasy against RBs. The Cardinals staff has to know the lone impressive win for the Eagles was in a game in which the Cowboys abandoned the running game. Arizona won't make that mistake this week, even if they fall behind.
• QB Michael Vick, WR Jeremy Maclin, WR DeSean Jackson, TE Brent Celek, K Alex Henery, D/ST Eagles
This is a "start all" game for the struggling Eagles, particularly since it is at home coming off a loss. LeSean McCoy is the only fantasy option that faces a matchup to consider, but no one is sitting that beast. Vick will rebound against a defense that is in the bottom 10 against QBs and WRs. Celek has taken over as the leading target, so he should remain active, but we fully expect Vick to be able to get the ball down field to Jackson and Maclin here, too.
• WR Early Doucet, TE Todd Heap, K Jay Feely, D/ST Cardinals
The Eagles are going to right themselves and the Cardinals are running into a bad situation here. You cannot like any of your Cardinals and you should definitely avoid these marginal options this week.
• RB Roy Helu, TE Fred Davis
The Dolphins are quietly fourth-best in fantasy against RBs, but Helu is coming off a breakthrough week in which he scored big points against the best team in fantasy against RBs. He did it by being a frequent target out of the backfield. The Dolphins, obviously, are going to game plan to slow that, but Helu looks like a viable starter for owners. Davis isn't 100 percent, but he is the leading Redskins receiver and the Dolphins are eighth-worst in fantasy against TEs. Keep him active.
• RB Reggie Bush, WR Brandon Marshall, D/ST Dolphins, K Dan Carpenter
Bush has put back-to-back solid weeks together and should continue to be used properly as Tony Sparano tries to salvage his job. Matt Moore isn't yet a fantasy option, but he is at least making the Dolphins offense look better than worthless. That makes Marshall more of a must-start than ever. The Miami defense has been revived and looks like a capable fantasy unit, especially against the woeful Redskins. Carpenter should get plenty of chances, too, especially if Daniel Thomas proves healthy and is able to help move the chains. Consider Thomas a risky option because of his hammy issues.
• QB John Beck, WR Jabar Gaffney, D/ST Redskins, K Graham Gano
Beck might have a bone to pick with Miami, but he doesn't have the juice to help fantasy owners. Rookie Leonard Hankerson, from the University of Miami, is starting opposite Gaffney, but neither receiver is an intriguing option with so many other receivers available to you now.
• RB Willis McGahee
The Chiefs are seventh-worst in fantasy against RBs, and McGahee is more of a must-start than a questionable option. But McGahee is playing with a broken hand, remember.
• QB Matt Cassel, WR Steve Breaston, RB Jackie Battle, D/ST Chiefs, K Ryan Succop
The Broncos are the worst team in fantasy against QBs and WRs, so we are going to be bullish on Cassel, Dwayne Bowe and Breaston. You might even consider Jonathan Baldwin if you need a third receiver in deeper leagues. The Chiefs got caught last Sunday underestimating the Dolphins coming off a big Monday night victory. If you need a sleeper defense -- and we realize the Chiefs stunk last week -- but the Chiefs are facing a Broncos team that has allowed the fourth-most points to opposing D/STs in fantasy. They rebound here. Battle will be featured heavily and will be used to start and finish drives, even if the Broncos (surprisingly) have allowed just one rushing TD to RBs this season.
• QB Tim Tebow, WR Eric Decker, WR Eddie Royal
This trio was serviceable a week ago, but the lack of bye weeks should leave these guys out of starting lineups now. Tebow is dangerous on the ground, but the Chiefs are going to be prepared better for the option. He might not even finish the game healthy. That might be good news for Decker, Royal and Demaryius Thomas if downfield threat Kyle Orton comes on, but you cannot trust any Bronco not named McGahee in this one.
• RB Chris Johnson, K Rob Bironas
We'll relent and suggest Johnson should be used again in fantasy, tentatively. If you have held him or dealt for him, you have to feel good about him facing the worst team in fantasy against RBs again. The last time -- against the Colts, who are now No. 2 -- went horribly wrong, but it did serve to wake Johnson up and he was decent last week. Use him again, but this is his last, last chance to give him.
• QB Cam Newton, RB Jonathan Stewart, TE Greg Olsen
Newton returns from bye week and should be active again, particularly at home. Steve Smith, Olsen and perhaps even Jeremy Shockey are solid options as well. If you're looking at the backs against the 10th-worst team in fantasy against RBs, you should go with Stewart over DeAngelo Williams now. Stewart is the better receiving threat, the goal-line back and he got more rushing attempts than Williams last time out.
• QB Matt Hasselbeck, WR Nate Washington, WR Lavelle Hawkins, TE Jared Cook
The Panthers have faced a pretty rigorous schedule for a last-place team, but they have done a pretty good job against QBs (top 10 in fantasy) and WRs (fourth-best). It is enough to consider all of their offensive options bad plays this week, save for Johnson (hopefully).
• RB Steven Jackson, WR Brandon Lloyd
We probably should be considering these two as must-starts regardless of the matchups, but the Rams are a bad team and still need favorable matchups like this for us to trust their leading options. It will be interesting to see what kind of progress Sam Bradford can make. The Browns are No. 1 in fantasy against WRs and No. 2 against QBs, but Lloyd is a go-to WR for Bradford and fantasy owners.
• RB Chris Ogbonnaya
This is a week to consider some sleepers with the Browns. The Rams are sixth-worst against RBs, albeit improved in recent weeks, and fifth-worst against WRs. They are also bottom-10 against QBs. Ogbonnaya has value because Peyton Hillis (hamstring) and Montario Hardesty (calf) have already been ruled out. If you are looking for a WR sleeper, go with Josh Cribbs, who was the Browns' leading receiver last week. Greg Little is just too raw still and Colt McCoy hasn't shown much consistency down field.
• TE Ben Watson
We could list a host of scrubs from both teams here, but instead we will focus on a player who has been a decent bye-week replacement, Watson. He faces the second-best team in fantasy against TEs. Despite the favorable nature of both defenses, this still should be a fantasy-wasteland of a game.
• RB Maurice Jones-Drew, D/ST Jaguars
This is a week to love MJD. He faces the second-worst team against RBs in fantasy and the Jags feature him heavily in their offense. He should also be as fresh as ever coming off a bye week. As for the Jags defense, it has been better than expected and should be a decent sleeper for fantasy owners as most Colts opponents are. The Colts are in the bottom 10 against opposing defenses. The Colts are also fourth-worst against WRs, so Mike Thomas and maybe Jason Hill can be sleepers for you.
• WR Pierre Garcon
There isn't much to like about the Colts offense, especially against a Jags defense that is fifth-best against WRs and top 10 against QBs in fantasy. Garcon has been a steady presence for Curtis Painter and fantasy owners, though, so keep him active. You likely can also feel OK about using Reggie Wayne, as needed.
• RB Joseph Addai, RB Donald Brown, RB Delone Carter, K Adam Vinatieri
The best matchup here for the Colts is with the running game, but we cannot be sure who is going to get the touches. Carter could have made it academic, but he had fumble issues and Brown took over last week. Now, Addai should be healthier and all three backs could be used. We probably should avoid all of them because of the uncertainty.
• WR Victor Cruz, D/ST Giants
The Giants didn't post great fantasy numbers against the league's worst defense in New England a week ago. Now they face arguably the toughest defense in the NFL in San Francisco with a cross-country trip. You cannot like any of your Giants offensive players, but Hakeem Nicks (hamstring) is a must-start if he plays and Cruz has emerged as a good bet against anybody. The 49ers are in the bottom half against QBs and WRs, so consider Manning a solid start if he is not normally a backup for you. The Giants defense faces the most careful offense in the NFL, but it will be interesting to see Alex Smith against the best pass rush in the league. There should be sacks and turnovers here to be had, even if Smith has just two picks to date.
• RB Frank Gore, WR Michael Crabtree, D/ST 49ers, K David Akers
Gore's ankle should not be an issue and the Giants have been susceptible to the run -- save for the pass-happy Pats a week ago. You might even consider Kendall Hunter, if you have a need for a sleeper RB. Crabtree gets a bottom-10 defense against WRs and he should be Smith's primary target in the passing game as long as he is healthy, which he looks like he is now. The defense and kicker for the 49ers remain must-start options amid their surprising season.
• RB Ahmad Bradshaw, RB Brandon Jacobs, RB D.J. Ware
The Giants face the best team in fantasy against RBs, and although they might get Bradshaw back, you shouldn't consider any of their backs. The uncertainty makes it difficult to trust any of them. You also probably shouldn't consider Mario Manningham if you have viable alternatives. A Nicks return can affect Manningham like a Bradshaw return can cripple Jacobs for fantasy owners.
• TE Vernon Davis
As much as the Giants were ripped by the Pats' elite tight ends last Sunday, they are still sixth-best in fantasy against TEs. That doesn't bode well for Davis, who has been a fantasy bust. Even a better matchup last week in Washington couldn't revive him.
• QB Matthew Stafford, TE Brandon Pettigrew, K Jason Hanson
Calvin Johnson makes Stafford good enough, but Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler against the worst team in fantasy against TEs can make Stafford a superstar. And that is despite facing a tough Bears defense that limited Michael Vick in Week 9. Keep Stafford active in all leagues, along with Hanson, who should be used more often against a bend-but-don't-break Bears D. The Bears are in the bottom half of fantasy against opposing D/STs, too, so consider the Lions if your primary defense faces a tough matchup.
• WR Earl Bennett, K Robbie Gould
You should hate teams coming off big Monday night victories. The Bears face another crucial game this week in a season full of them, but you cannot like a lot of the marginal Bears fantasy options. Matt Forte is an obvious must-start against anyone, but the Lions are top 10 against QBs, RBs, WRs and D/STs. Bennett, who has re-emerged as a go-to option for Jay Cutler, and Gould, are about the only Bears other than Forte to feel confident in.
• RB Maurice Morris, RB Keiland Williams, RB Jahvid Best, RB Kevin Smith, WR Nate Burleson
The Bears didn't shut down the Eagles running game, but they figure to prove too tough for the collection of backs the Lions will try with Best still out with a concussion. If Best plays, you might consider him, but he is one hit from being out for the game ... or his career. None of the Lions fringe options should be considered against an underrated Bears defense.
• QB Joe Flacco, WR Anquan Boldin, WR Torrey Smith, D/ST Ravens, K Billy Cundiff
The Seahawks are going to need a lot more than the 12th man to stop this emerging Ravens offense with Flacco getting the ball down field to Boldin and now Smith. Ray Rice is a must-start, despite a decent Seahawks run defense. In fact, you should feel confident in all your Ravens.
• RB Marshawn Lynch
Lynch was a dog through most of the first half of the season, but he has gotten hot of late. He is so productive and important to the Seahawks attack, you should keep him active against second-best team in fantasy against RBs. Lynch gashed a good Cowboys run defense and can go for 75 yards and a score here, too.
• QB Tarvaris Jackson, WR Sidney Rice, D/ST Seahawks
There are not a lot of Seahawks we care about, but you cannot like them against the Ravens defense that is third-best against QBs, second against RBs and
• QB Tom Brady, K Stephen Gostkowski
It is not often we feel compelled to tell you to start Brady, but with Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski -- and maybe even Aaron Hernandez -- as must-starts, you still should feel confident Brady is going to get plenty done against the Jets in a crucial game. The Jets are No. 1 in fantasy against QBs, but there is only one Brady and just too many weapons. What the Jets could do is slow Brady to the point that red-zone trips end with field-goal attempts more than TDs. That is why you should like Gostkowski despite his bad game against the Giants last Sunday.
• RB Shonn Greene, WR Santonio Holmes, WR Plaxico Burress, K Nick Folk
The Pats are third-worst against QBs and WRs, so consider Mark Sanchez a sleeper if you don't have a great starting QB option. The wideouts should be productive and TE Dustin Keller can be, too, if this game becomes a shootout late like we should expect with such high stakes. Greene is a marginal option we should feel good about, too, since the Pats, especially with fat Albert Haynesworth clogging the middle of the run defense. The Pats are in the bottom half against RBs. You should likely also keep the Jets defense active, especially with the amount of turnovers Brady is handing the other team this season.
• RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB Danny Woodhead, RB Kevin Faulk, D/ST Patriots
The Pats defense is a joke that cannot be trusted, no matter what you think of the Jets' inconsistent offense. And the Pats running game is just as laughable. You have to hate all of them against an improved Jets run defense, which we should still expect to be elite by season's end. We cannot figure out why the Pats don't run the ball, even if they did their best job against the Jets last time out. The Pats offense has been figured out. You stack the line of scrimmage and jam the receivers. It slows the run and forces the Pats to go deep, something they just don't have the personnel to do.
• RB Adrian Peterson
The Packers are suspect against the pass and WRs, and great against the run. This is awful news for the Vikings offense, which is structured exactly the opposite. Christian Ponder isn't quite trustworthy enough, but hopefully he can do enough to keep Peterson productive for his fantasy owners. It might be Peterson catching passes out of the backfield more than running against the Packers defense. If you need a sleeper at WR or TE, Michael Jenkins, Percy Harvin and Visanthe Shiancoe are options, especially since the Packers are second-worst in fantasy against WRs.
• WR Jordy Nelson, WR James Jones, TE Jermichael Finley, K Mason Crosby, D/ST Packers
This is almost a "start all" game for the Packers, if we had any confidence they had interest in developing a running game. They don't. It makes Aaron Rodgers' secondary and tertiary targets as much of a must-start as Greg Jennings.
• RB James Starks, RB Ryan Grant
Starks should have been a viable fantasy option by now, particularly since Grant is hardly getting touches anymore. But the Vikings are better stopping the run than they have shown, and the Packers don't bother to run the clock out even when they are up big. This is going to be a Rodgers prime-time show and with a lack of bye weeks, don't be tempted to use Starks.